How to Control Blood Sugar Spikes

Knowing why blood sugar spikes happen and making small changes to your meals and routine can help you better manage diabetes.

What Causes Spikes?

The blood sugar spikes that you encounter after a meal happen because your body is not completely in sync. When a non-diabetic eats a meal, there is an immediate release of insulin into the bloodstream, and production of a hormone called amylin occurs. Insulin that is produced by the pancreas does its job in just a few minutes, which is to to move glucose obtained from food from the bloodstream into cells throughout the body. The hormone amylin keeps food from reaching the intestines too quickly, which is where the nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. When this happens blood sugar rises only a small amount after meals.

For people with diabetes, the process is a bit different and the timing does not work the same. When insulin is injected or infused via a pump into the body it takes approximately 15 minutes to start working. Once insulin begins to work it will take 60 to 90 minutes to peak and four hours or more to finish working. Furthermore, amylin is either produced in insufficient amounts or not at all in people who have diabetes. Due to the insufficient amounts of amylin food is digested even faster than usual. This combination of slower insulin and faster digestion can cause blood sugar levels to rise very high right after a meal.

How to Prevent Spikes

  1. Split your meals. To keep your blood sugar from spiking try saving a portion of your meal for a snack, one or two hours later. You should still take the full mealtime insulin before eating any meal, but try to avoid eating the entire meal at once.
  2. Get moving. Doing a little exercise after eating can reduce post-meal spikes as well. When you take insulin prior to a meal or snack and exercise after, the enhanced blood flow to the skin surface is likely to make the insulin absorb and act more quickly. Ten to fifteen minutes of mild activity will go a long way. The key is to avoid sitting for extended periods of time after a meal.
  3. Understand glycemic load and carbohydrates.Glycemic load (GL) measures how much carbohydrate in a food affects your blood sugar levels. Foods made with refined carbohydrates, like white pasta, are digested quickly and have a higher GL that causes blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, but foods made with complex carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat pasta, have a lower GL that has a much smaller effect on blood sugar.
  4. Control portion size. Keep in mind that a large meal means more sugar enters the bloodstream at one time. Eating smaller portions beefed up by low GL snacks, such as nuts, keeps your blood sugar even throughout the day.
  5. Try different food combinations. Remember that what you eat with your carbohydrates matters as well. Protein and fat slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which will help prevent insulin spikes and drops. Try pairing an apple with peanut butter or serving rice with beans and avocado. These kinds of combination can lessen the blood-sugar impact of your meal. Simply remember that the less processed your food and the more work your body has to do to digest it, the better it is for your blood sugar.

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